Cover: Russian Assessments and Applications of the Correlation of Forces and Means

Russian Assessments and Applications of the Correlation of Forces and Means

Published Apr 20, 2020

by Clint Reach, Vikram Kilambi, Mark Cozad


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Research Questions

  1. How is "correlation of forces and means" defined?
  2. How does the Russian military assess and apply COFM today? How does this differ from COFM assessments during the Cold War?
  3. How have both the Soviets and the Russians understood and included combat potential in COFM assessments?
  4. How is the changing nature of warfare affecting COFM?

During the Cold War, the United States and its allies sought to understand virtually every aspect of the Soviet military — including how it defined and assessed the correlations of forces and means (COFM). COFM is defined as the military balance between two opponents at the global, regional, and local levels.

The international environment and new security threats that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union shifted the United States' focus away from the large-scale military problems prevalent during the Cold War to different concerns, such as terrorism, regional ethnic conflict, and nuclear proliferation. As U.S. security concerns evolved, in-depth analysis of COFM and other issues related to understanding military balance and competition between major powers received relatively little attention from military planners and analysts.

To bridge the gap in knowledge that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the authors of this report examine COFM's evolution in Russian military thinking and explore current definitions and applications in Russia's operational and military planning in response to changes in modern warfare. They also briefly describe other Russian comparisons of state power that historically were a part of Soviet strategic assessments of COFM.

Key Findings

The changes that have taken place in modern warfare have had an impact on the way Russians think about COFM

  • Modern Russian COFM assessments with respect to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) likely are based on combat potential values derived through a methodology that uses qualimetric methods and expert elicitation and was developed by the Russian General Staff's think tank.
  • From the Russian perspective, the critical force correlation is NATO's capability to build up forces and execute conventional precision strikes against critical military and economic infrastructure from air and sea, and Russia's capability to disrupt such an attack.
  • Russia's military force structure remains a product of deep reforms implemented in 2008, which were predicated on the assumptions that large-scale war was unlikely and that modern wars between advanced militaries with nuclear weapons would be centered on the aerospace domain.
  • In peacetime, superiority in long-range conventional precision munitions (in addition to platforms and enabling infrastructure) can have deterrent value given "escalation dominance" and the ability to hold Russia's outer layer of defenses at risk and protect its military-economic potential in the rear.
  • In wartime, according to some Russian analyses of a hypothetical NATO-Russia war, escalatory pressure can be created by expanding the conflict beyond the local theater of military operations as a result of disparity in long-range precision capability and capacity.

This work was funded by the Russia Strategic Initiative, United States European Command, and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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